Muslim headscarf may keep Minnesota teen boxer out of the ring

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A Minnesota teen boxer whose religious beliefs may prevent her from stepping into the ring has the country's largest Muslim civil liberties group in her corner.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (or CAIR) is calling on USA Boxing – which is holding a "Golden Gloves at the Garden" event this Friday in Duluth – to allow Amaiya Zafar to compete while wearing her Islamic headscarf, or hijab, a news release says. She also wants to fight with her arms and legs covered.

CAIR says the Oakdale 15-year-old hopes to take part in Golden Gloves, but the attire violates the rules of the International Boxing Association (AIBA) and thus precludes her from participating.

“Outdated and discriminatory rules should not supersede constitutional protections guaranteeing religious freedom," said Ibrahim Hooper, national communications director of the Washington, D.C. group, in a letter to several organizations that oversee boxing – including the United States Olympic Committee.

Hooper says all interested parties should "work with Amaiya Zafar and her family" to reach a "mutually-agreeable solution" so the teen can compete in Duluth.

But it may not be as simple as lifting some longstanding rules.

Michael Martino, executive director of USA Boxing, told MPR "there's a safety issue involved. If you're covering up arms, if you're covering up legs, could there be preexisting injury? And then if someone got hurt during the event, the referee wouldn't be able to see it."

On the other hand, it never occurred to Cerresso Fort, who coaches Zafar, that the attire might pose a problem in the ring, the station says.

But as the Star Tribune reported Thursday morning, there may be a ray of hope for the 106-pound teenager, who stands just a little over 5 feet tall: USA Boxing will ask the Switzerland-headquartered AIBA for a change in the rules that would allow Zafar to fight.

“We want to get people in the sport," a USA Boxing official told the paper. "If they would make an exception, I would be thrilled."

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